It is now one week since the Israeli authorities arrested Omar Barghouti, a co-founder of the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement in Palestine. His arrest follows years of intimidation and threats by various state agencies. If the purpose is to isolate and silence Barghouti, his arrest was, at best, short-sighted and counterproductive. BDS, meanwhile, is already a Palestinian-inspired global movement, which will be impossible to stop.
Although Israeli President Reuven Rivlin described the BDS movement in May 2015 as a “strategic threat”, when it was launched back in July 2005, officials dismissed the campaign as a poor attempt to imitate the international boycott which played a pivotal role in dismantling the criminal apartheid regime in South Africa. That disparaging belief no longer exists. The mere fact that the country is spending millions of dollars every month to collect data and counter BDS at home and abroad, is in itself a measure of how seriously the Israelis now view it.
By resorting to high-handed tactics of repression and intimidation, Israel is doing the ultimate disservice to its own cause. Unwittingly, it has, by such measures, created the perfect conditions for BDS to grow and attract supporters the world over, for it does not take much to convince open-minded people about the need for BDS.
Policies that deny basic freedoms and human rights are inherently repulsive to the sense of justice of reasonable human beings.
Today, those who support BDS are driven by values of equality and fairness, as well as recognition of a shared humanity. This is why they find the denial of full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel so repugnant; why they demand an end to the military occupation of Palestinian territories captured in 1967; and why they ask why the Palestinians who were expelled by Jewish militias in 1948 are not allowed to exercise their legal right of return to their homes. There is nothing conspiratorial or bigoted about this. The latter is, after all, a right that is recognised internationally.
If nothing else, it is the continued denial by Israel of all Palestinian rights that has fuelled the BDS movement. On every continent, minority and disadvantaged communities, churches, labour unions and human rights organisations are supporting this non-violent campaign because they are convinced it is part of their own self-preservation.
Gone are the days when celebrity A-listers, entertainers and sports personalities give their unqualified support to Israel. Today, such support is conditional; it will only be given when Israel respects the dignity of the Palestinian people. Under no circumstances can today’s celebrities be seen to endorse or legitimise discrimination openly, irrespective of the perpetrator. There is simply no moral or legal justification for discrimination of any kind, least of all the state-sanctioned manifestation that we see in Israel.
As cruel as it may sound, Omar Barghouti’s arrest was inevitable; not because of any criminal activity on his part, but because of the longstanding threats made against him. Last year, Amnesty International expressed concern for his safety and liberty after a number of Israeli ministers issued veiled threats against Barghouti at an anti-BDS conference in Jerusalem on 28 March.
One threat which was especially grotesque was that made by Minister of Transport, Intelligence and Atomic Energy Yisrael Katz, who called on Israel to engage in “targeted civil eliminations” of BDS leaders with the help of its murderous intelligence agencies. Amnesty said that the term alluded to “targeted assassinations”, which is used to describe Israel’s policy of targeting members of armed Palestinian groups.
The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) has no doubt about the motive for the arrest of its co-founder; it is all about repression. The BNC pointed out that the current investigation, which includes a travel ban, was not coincidental, coming just weeks before Barghouti was scheduled to travel to the US to receive the Gandhi Peace Award jointly with Ralph Nader in a ceremony at Yale University.
Would the BDS movement collapse if Omar Barghouti is imprisoned or assassinated? Of course not. The legal, political and human rights similarities between the Palestinian reality and that which existed in apartheid South Africa are so blatant that they would not go unnoticed or unchallenged anywhere in the civilised world.
To date, none of the measures adopted by Israel to combat the BDS have succeeded. Whether it is the banning of activists from entering Palestine, the creation of special dirty tricks units to discredit activists, or their imprisonment, all are methods that were tried in South Africa where they proved to be wholly inadequate and inconsequential. On the contrary, they only succeeded in drawing ever more attention to the unjust and criminal nature of the apartheid system.
Rest assured that the results will be the same in Palestine, with or without the physical presence and great efforts of Omar Barghouti. By turning him into a cause célèbre, Israel has confirmed that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign is indeed a strategic threat.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.